Open Letter: Bath's Next Vice Chancellor Faces Serious Challenges

By Office of Wera Hobhouse, Mar 02, 2018 10:03

"The huge gap in pay is unfair and cannot be justified, and I urge the University to reduce it quickly"

Dear Mr Sheppard,

Thank you for your letter asking my opinion on the challenges facing Bath University and the role of the next Vice Chancellor.

Everyone involved should be proud of the University of Bath. It has climbed to the top end of the league tables and has a reputation for academic excellence, strong research and world class sports facilities. It has first-rate teaching staff and loyal hardworking support staff who provide students with a genuine sense of community.

Whoever next holds the Vice Chancellor position will be taking the helm of very influential organisation. However, they will be facing serious challenges, as well as significantly increased scrutiny on the national stage. Perhaps the largest challenge they face is mending the University’s relationship with the city, with its staff and its students. If the new Vice Chancellor can manage this, it would define the University’s success for years to come.

Many residents I have spoken to feel that the University should be making more of a financial contribution to Bath. The Council was previously compensated by central government for hosting students in the city, but this practice was ended by austerity. Students do not pay council tax, and the University does not pay rent for the ground on which it stands. It is up to the University and B&NES to negotiate the terms of a rent agreement, but my suggestion would be that the University pays the equivalent of the council tax that the city loses as a result of the student population, which I’ve been told is above £3 million.

Many University staff have told me about their anger over the differential in pay between themselves and top management. The huge gap in pay is unfair and cannot be justified, and I urge the University to reduce it quickly. The University also needs to pay its lowest-paid workers a real living wage, and needs to do away with employing staff on nine-month contracts to avoid holiday pay. Large numbers of staff are striking at the moment, and management needs to engage in dialogue. The University’s success over the years has been a credit to everyone involved, and that should be recognised by treating staff fairly.

It should also be very clear by now that the University needs to seriously address the issue of transparency and the process by which senior pay is set. Senior managers, including the new Vice Chancellor, must not sit on the body that sets their own pay.

I understand that students at Bath University are also concerned. The expansion policy of the University does not only impact on residents of the city, but means students may not get value for money. I have had student groups in my surgeries, talking about over crowded lecture theatres and an inability to access housing. On-campus rents are going up, and students who do not have support from their parents can really struggle. Admissions need to be seriously looked at in relation to capacity, both academically and in terms of housing.

We are lucky to have a world class university for a world class city. The job of the new Vice Chancellor is to make sure the two get along.

Best wishes,

Wera Hobhouse

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